On a cool, spring day we left Los Angeles early, bound for the Orange County canyon home of Helena Modjeska, the great 19th century Polish actress who learned English in mid-life and tirelessly toured America, bringing culture and emotional honesty to the people.
Our journey felt a bit like time travel, as the busy freeway traffic thinned and gave way to rolling hills covered with grass. Then up a narrow canyon, past olive groves and giggling turkeys running free, we found Arden, the house and garden where Modjeska went to recharge her soul after giving everything to her audiences. Today it is a National Register landmark with a devoted interpretive docent staff. We were the only people on the tour, and our guide Jan graciously shared the secrets of the house and indulged our many questions.
We hope you enjoy Kim’s photos from Mme. Modjeska’s wonderful house, a rare example of Stanford White’s architecture in California. You can see Richard’s photos of the grounds here. To plan your own visit, visit the OC Parks website. Recommended reading: Starring Madame Modjeska: On Tour in Poland and America.
National Register plaque.
Mme. Modjeska’s porch
New York architect Stanford White’s only California commission.
The Arts & Crafts front door.
Front door detail.
Front door knocker.
House seen through the old well. Note the woodpeckers’ work.
Pass-thru from the kitchen, from the failed country club era.
Mme. Modjeska had a stuffed puma she liked to prank people with.
Mme. Modjeska and artifacts.
Beautiful round frame for the front door.
Mme. Modjeska in her stage garb.
Lower windows added during the failed country club era.
Mme. Modjeska’s music room with its ship-like construction.
Replica of Mme. Modjeska’s lost lion table crafted by her great-great granddaughter, Betsy Chronic.
One of Mme. Modjeska’s theatrical trunks.
An aesthetic-style doorknob.
Peculiar red glass window treatment in the bath.
When Mme. Modjeska died, this fan was forgotten in the repair shop. Decades later, it came home.
A Black Madonna icon made for Mme. Modjeska in Poland.
Mme. Modjeska’s bedroom.
Mme. Modjeska’s porch.
Ice house with a wee residence on top; California plant man Theodore Payne lived here.
Inside the ice house.
Stanford White designed this outbuilding in the Polish vernacular style.
The old bridge washed out, but these pillars survive.
Steps down into the swimming pool designed by Mme. Modjeska’s son.
In the swimming pool designed by Mme. Modjeska’s son.
Cenotaph (Mme. Modjeska and her husband The Count are buried in Poland).